Rising stars salute ACM winners
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Rising stars salute ACM winners

Wednesday, September 23, 2009 – At most country music award shows, you know what to expect: a heavily-televised room with celebrities and their entourages filling the first several rows, and fans cheering from the back of the room. The year's top singers performing either a recent hit single or debuting a new song. One or two hosts with multiple wardrobe changes (unless the host is Vince Gill or Brad Paisley). Everyone anxiously holding his or her breath to see who will win each prestigious trophy.

The 2nd Annual ACM Honors, held Tuesday at Nashville's Schermerhorn Symphony Center, was a little different. This award show recognized industry professionals (venue owners, musicians, concert promoters, etc) who won awards during the ACM Awards that were held in May, but who were not on television.

Host Lee Ann Womack (sans wardrobe changes) recognized each of the honorees and introduced several young country stars like Joe Nichols, Carrie Underwood, Kellie Pickler, and Miranda Lambert. These stars sang not their own hits, but covers of the classic tunes written and performed by the night's honorees.

Rodney Atkins presented Joe's Bar with the Nightclub of the Year honor, while Casino of the Year went to Stone Casino in Verona, N.Y. The Don Romeo Buyer of the Year trophy went to Romeo's daughter, Fran Romeo. Nashville's Ryman Auditorium won Venue of the Year.

Some of Nashville's best musicians, including Aubrey Haynie, Eric Darken, Jellyroll Johnson, Greg Morrow, and Dan Dugmore were honored for their talents. Longtime ACM staffer David Young was also recognized for his service to the organization; he recently retired after 20 years with the ACM.

Record producer Tony Brown was awarded Producer of the Year. "When things get sideways," he said, "always turn to music. It will never let you down."

Hank Williams Jr. was one of several to win a Pioneer Award. Titans coach Jeff Fisher and Kid Rock taped video tributes, while Williams' daughters accepted the award on his behalf. Bluegrass band The Grascals did a medley of Williams' hits, while Jamey Johnson sang A Country Boy Can Survive.

Womack was especially appreciative of Lambert's renditions of Haggard's Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Star and her knockout take on Hank Williams Jr. song, Anymore Love Songs. "[Lambert] listens to a lot of great country music--especially mine," said Womack.

Merle Haggard and the late Harlan Howard were awarded Poet of the Year awards. Patty Loveless sang a powerful rendition of Howard's Blame It On Your Heart. A version of Howard's Busted is on her forthcoming bluegrass album.

Gill performed an emotional version of Haggard's Holding Things Together. "I wrote the song, and I heard things in his version that I'd never heard in my songs." Haggard said of Gill's version. Haggard received a standing ovation.

"There's a lump in my throat this evening. I'm honored to go in with Harlan." Haggard said before adding, "We once fished for 24 hours together, but never wrote a song together."

The Jim Reeves Award went to Dolly Parton. She was not in attendance, but taped a video acceptance speech for the evening. About her classic songs, she said, "I did not think about how my songs would [come across]. You just have something to get off your chest. In my case that is a lot!"

The late Jerry Reed was also honored; Steve Wariner sang the famous Reed song Eastbound and Down. Jerry Roe, Reid's grandson and an ace musician in his own right, accepted the award. "I'm honored to accept this award, but more honored to have his blood in my veins." Roe said.

Pickler and Johnson were on hand to pay tribute to another Pioneer award winner, Kenny Rogers. Johnson and Pickler performed Every Time Two Fools Collide. Blake Shelton performed The Gambler before sharing that Rogers had recorded Ol' Red before Shelton had gotten to it (the song was a hit for Shelton). "I'll trade you Ol' Red for The Gambler any day," Shelton said.

Long-time buddy and duet partner Parton taped a bubbly video congratulations to Rogers. Of their longtime friendship, Parton said, "You and I go back to when fire was just an idea."

The evening ended with a musical honoring for Randy Travis. James Otto sang Deeper Than The Holler. "What an honor to be here tonight to honor one of my heroes - the great Randy Travis." Carrie Underwood ended the evening with a powerhouse solo version of I Told You So before Travis' acceptance speech.
- Jessica Phillips

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